Last night proved to be one of those rides which if it doesn’t break you makes you stronger. Well, I don’t think AndyC and I feel any stronger this morning so in that case…
Meeting up at the garage were DaveW, Tony, Colin, Barrie, AndyC, DaveC and myself.
Except DaveC wasn’t on a bike, he was there to hand out prototype Mole stickers for our bikes. They’ve come out pretty well although the execution needs improving – the silvery ink proved too transparent but the black and clear silhouette versions looked much better. As with all these things it takes time to get the inks and sizing right and we’ll need to test how durable they are. But so far it’s a good start. I’ll get a pic posted soon.
Tony had some ideas for the ride as did I and after a brief consultation we managed to cobble together a route to keep the muddy tracks to a minimum but still provide some fun. All that sorted, we headed out into the bitterly cold air.
Our plan was to head over toward the sawmill at Norbury rather than trudge through Wiggly Wood and we were soon flying down past Roaring House Farm and up the steep path opposite, already sparkling with hoar frost. Over the top and down the other side we could see dustings of snowfall but nothing of any significance.
By the time we’d tramped up the other side, a sharp, steep climb, especially on my singlespeed, I knew I was already struggling. A combination of too brisk a pace, the effects of a recent head cold and a neck spasm that’s been bugging me for a few weeks starting to take their toll. The cold air was rasping in my lungs.
We stopped by the sawmill for Tony to fettle his brand new chain which unbelievably had a stiff link. He had to contend with slipping gears all night on his ‘cursed’ Orange Clockwork which has recently had it’s middle ring, chain and derailleur replaced in a bid to counter chainsuck. Bad to the drawing board…
Once underway again we span round Updown Wood before spitting out almost where we’d started near the Norbury sawmill before picking up the short climb up to the radio mast. Jess and Danielle would be pleased to know that myself and the other ‘students’ from their recent MTB skills courses were at least trying to put their ideas into practice. AndyC has even been getting in the odd hour here and there to practice his manuals!
From the radio mast we headed straight down, laying fresh tracks on the light snow powder that covered the hills. I headed up and was hapy to motor down the descent, making up for my struggles on the climbs I think. Not a good sign really.
We then took the tarmac through to the Mickleham climb up to the gallops. While I found I could grind up the hill I was no match for a sprightly DaveW, Barrie or Tony (who still had gear issues). Myself, I was burdened not only by what I’ve termed ‘heavy clothing’—too many layers restricting movement and a beanie hat that was making my head cook—but possibly the noisiest squeak on a bike I’ve ever heard. A relentless wail from scraping pads or something in my rear brake or hub which only eased back if I dragged the brakes. It drove me crazy.
By the time we’d reached the end of the Gallops it was time for the Chainbreaker descent. I followed DaveW, Barrie and Tony down, finding little grip near the top as my poor line choices helped me visit parts of the trail I’d rather avoid. I guess I was conscious of the roots just below the snowfall. Half way down though things were back on track and I was quite happy to drop over the log as Barrie and Tony minced round the hard way.
At the bottom we started on the pebbley climb up to High Ashurst. My tiredness was suddenly making everything seem extremely hard work and I was first to bail out and start walking. I just had no appetite for the fight up really and was soon joined by an equally suffering AndyC. Eventually we were able to remount the bikes but the others we far ahead and by the time we were on the tarmac to the Box Hill Road they were two or three hundred yards ahead where they stubbornly remained as we tried to close the gap in lethargic fashion. Both of us were going to suffer for the rest of the ride.
The next thing on the menu was a descent down to Juniper Bottom as my plan for rocky tracks unfolded. We’d not been bothered by mud so far so things were going well in that regard. The Juniper descent was fast and fun as I tried the trail pumping techniques we’ve been shown – I do think it works to smooth progress and it’s quite apparant on the hardtail but I need to add a lot more polish!
We parted from Colin and Barrie at Juniper Hall as our final third of our plan unfolded. The first step was to climb up through Denbies, still accompanied but the tortured mouse in my brake. At last we reached the crossing point for people descending off the hill and I could stand it no longer. I turned over the bike and removed the wheel but found nothing to indicate the problem. But as I replaced it I put less pressure on the quick release and as soon as we were rolling again there was silence. Complete, blissful silence. Thank God for that I could tell we were all thinking!
Our climb up the Denbies hillside, interupted by the security gates was made more enjoyable by the sight of Dorking light up in front of us. I hadn’t really noticed until then how clear the night air was but glancing up I could see the Orion constellation hovering just above the trees. It was crystal clear.
Ranmore was basking under a sharp frost which was making the roads icy in places but we didn’t stay up there too long, turning off at the Church to head down to Bagden Farm via the very long, fast descent. Again, more firm trails and some manualling fun as I hopped off various lips and humps in the trail. I guess I should have been trying to smooth things out but I was having too much fun and keen to make the most of the downward progress as my neck started to feel more and more stiff.
At the farm we turned left onto the tarmac again for a short but punishing stretch up the steep hairpin. AndyC was making full use of his gears as once again DaveW and Tony disappeared while the pair of us crawled up. Pure pain but at least we were only a handful of miles from home.
We left the tarmac at the point where we normally cross to head toward Tanners, instead heading in the opposite direction toward home. By now I was having trouble holding my head up but the trail was fun, especially the downard pointing bits. All too soon though it was time to head up toward Wiggly Wood. I had nothing in me and once again conceded defeat to the hill, almost immediately this time.
As I walked up I could see that Andy, pedalling, wasn’t pulling away from me at all! As the trail levelled out I dragged myself onboard the INbred and ground up the final few yards to catch an exhausted Andy. Dave and Tony had waited at the entrance to Wiggly Wood and I suddenly realised we’d put in all this effort just to ride the Wood in reverse, taking advantage of the gradient rather than fighting it for a change. Tony shot off and I followed Dave with Andy behind me. I was surprised to find the trail quite twisty but I guess that was because we were going much faster than we’d normally be doing in the other direction.
It soon smoothed out and I thoroughly enjoyed putting in the effort in the final few minutes of the ride was we zipped through the trees. Our final roll down Crabtree Lane proved just how cold it was and Tony and I said our goodbyes to Andy and Dave on the roll, not wanting to hang around at the garage.
By the time I was home I had 17 miles on the clock, an average heart rate of 150 and had burned an indicated 1956 calories. Either I’m getting less fit or that was a tough ride but regardless of that I could hardly hold up my head. This morning it’s very uncomfortable so I guess it’s time to book a visit to the physio.